(I have to apologize – I still have not found a place with a fast enough connection to upload any pictures. I have a ton, I promise!)
Java is much harder than Bali, probably because the island is less aimed at tourists and more at people just living their lives. I can’t comment on the small towns yet, because I won’t be in any until later this week. Yogyakarta is all I’ve seen – and it’s an eyeful. The end of Malioboro St., near the train station, is where Java sells it’s culture; hundreds, maybe thousands, of vendors line every possible square foot of space for over two miles. Dozens of Batik shops with very fluent English speakers have their people outside posing as instant friends – they eventually guide you into the shop and pressure you heavily to buy. Not only that, but each store goes out of their way to convince you that their batik art is the original stuff – and other schools and stores are ripping off their work. I saw the same designs in 5 different shops – 2 people claimed to me to be the artist personally. One even said he’d sell one at the bargain price of $30 USD, just to “get my name into your country.” Slick. It would be funny if it weren’t kind of sad.
With apologies to our new French friends, I have discovered a fairly foolproof way of quickly shaking off the lion’s share of touts – unless I initiate a conversation, I respond to any offers with a smile and a “Non, merci,” and if they continue to try (many stop immediately – they don’t if you answer in English or Bahasa), I say “Je ne parle pas,” and keep walking. This has worked all but once. Once, a friendly Indonesian (but that’s how all the batik touts have started) began speaking to me in English. I gave my responses. His eyes lit up. “Oh! Parlez-vous francais?” And off he went in French. I tried to keep up, but, laughably, his French was way better than mine. What I did understand sounded benign enough, so I stopped him.
“OK, you got me. I’m American, not French.” I grinned at him. He stopped, confused for a moment, and then doubled over with laughter. Turned out he was just a well-traveled Indonesian man named “Jojo” who was walking home, and we walked the rest of the long street together, chatting in English. He complimented me on the facade and said he bet it worked – I answered, All but the once! We reached the end of the street and he bid me adieu.
If you travel far enough down Malioboro, you not only reach the royal palace, but the markets undergo a significant and welcome change. Instead of stalls peddling tourist fare, you start seeing local goods – dozens of different, brightly-colored tropical fruit (including the smelly durian), tiny fried whole chickens (chick sized!), vegetable stands, food stalls, sarongs, head scarves, children’s clothing, etc. It is also packed with people. Yogya is not the place to be if you happen to be claustrophobic (I am not, thankfully!).
I saw a Pizza Hut during my travels and ducked inside to look at the menu – I remembered Japan having some far-out pizza options on order, but would you believe that Indonesia has Japan’s tuna-corn-and-mayo pizza beat on strangeness? Try this on – a fish & chips pizza, which has small chunks of breaded fish and red chillis doused in strings of mayonnaise and sambal (chilli sauce) with potato chips (not fries) piled on top. Oh but it doesn’t end there! The menu recommends this pizza with the “Crown” crust, which features cheese, honey mustard, and breaded chicken tenders baked into the dough. So, to recap, that’s fish chunks, mayo, red chillis (and sauce), potato chips, chicken tenders, honey mustard, and oh yeah, cheese. I took pictures of the menu, because if it were me, I might not believe it either. (Check Flickr to see pictures – eventually I’ll be able to upload them!)
It is very unusual to travel alone in this country, for a woman, even more so. I can’t count the sad, sympathetic stares I’ve received. I try to tell them I’m meeting my husband in Jakarta, but usually they glance at my hand (I don’t wear a ring) and I’m not sure they believe me. I also think they assume I’m lonely because I have no current travel companion. On the plus side, this means I am rarely without someone sitting next to me for a conversation. On the down side, it means I’m never able to sit, breathe in public, and relax my face from all that smiling. Smiling is step zero in Indo, it’s the oil that lubricates any and all interactions, including just passing on the road. Without it, the gears grind to a halt.
I’m getting much better at Bahasa, the local language. It’s slow-going, because it’s sometimes difficult to pick up new words and phrases when dealing with only one language that I don’t know well, but I’ve found some ways to do it. I am constantly reminded of a series of scenes in The 13th Warrior (I think?) with Antonio Banderas. He is travelling with a group of people who speak a totally different language. The scenes show them riding, sitting by a fire, etc., and the gibberish (no subtitles) is just gibberish to us and to him, but every once in a while, the movie will toss in an English word, then a phrase, until finally, the movie converts entirely to English. I thought that was a brilliant method to convey the learning of a language. I only wish it happened as fast as it did in the movie!
Tomorrow I head to Borobudur, a Buddhist mandala temple said to rival Angkor Wat. I also intend to see Prambanan, Java’s most impressive Hindu temple complex. My hotel is near a huge mosque, where the booming calls to prayer begin at 4am each morning and repeat throughout the day. I am fascinated by so many different religions existing in concert, largely harmoniously (the US is pretty homogenous, at least, Oklahoma is). I should have plenty of time to get more acquainted with this concept, since not only is it a feature of Indonesia, but I understand Malaysia is similarly diverse.
Rhys – good luck on your trip to Surabaya!